The Pulse

Playing The Deep Ball For Summertime Muskies. 03/29/2015

It’s now July and we are in the peak of summer here in Northern Wisconsin. By now all of our lakes are at our above 72 degrees and after a warm June the deeper lakes in the area have had plenty of time to stratify. Now that we have warmer water temperatures at deeper depths than we have had all year fish begin to move farther away from the surface. This is the time of year to probe the depths for uncharted deep water muskies.

On every lake fish will make a deep water movement as water temperatures peak. The lakes that have the most prevalent deep water bite are generally clear, deep (in excess of 40’) and contain many suspending baitfish such as cisco, whitefish and crappie. Before continuing “deep” must be defined. Deep water means something different on each lake. Think of the deepest structure in your favorite lake. Do the weeds end at 8 feet or 17 feet? Do the majority of humps/bars top out at 3 or 15? I consider deep water to start at the deepest structure available in the lake. So for example if the average weed line stops at 17 feet I would consider anything 17 feet and deeper to be “deep”.

I like to think of a box. Musky will not hold deeper than the thermocline as long as it is developed. In most clear deep bodies of water near Hayward the thermocline will develop near 22 feet and move to 34 feet for the majority of summer. That being said deep water fish are “boxed in” so to speak between deep structure and the inhabitable.


At first glance picking apart deep water looks fairly difficult. Most of these lakes have a mean depth of 30 feet or more so by definition the entirely lake would qualify as deep water. Quite bluntly the first thing to look for is deep weeds. Sandgrass. Sandgrass is a unique translucent weed that grows in depths near 30 feet depending on water clarity and quality. In early summer look for sandgrass in depths from 17 to 22 feet on the deep edges of bays and shallow structure with a gradual break. Because the thermocline is shallower this time of year fish don’t have the need to sit any deeper thus this will be the first deep water areas to get good.

As the water warms and the thermocline settles deeper and deeper you to must venture farther from the shallows. As the summer goes on musky will relate to shallow water less and less. During the late summer the deep weeds are still where the most action takes place however the location changes. Instead of probing these deep weed flats focus on extremely fast breaking edges in depths from 20 to 27. This might be a productive area that is 10 feet wide and stretches for hundreds of yards. Or could be no bigger than the size of your boat. The reason these areas hold fish late summer is due to the fact that a fish roaming just above the thermocline has much less distance to cover to reach weeds on a sharp incline as opposed to a long flat. These areas are much less visually appealing to the human eye than the vast sandgrass flats that inhibit the same depths. However the results are down there!

There is one other variable to consider when targeting these deep areas, bait. Always keep an eye on your electronics for bait balls. During the early summer months you won’t see many as most of the bait will be situated too close to the surface. However during the late summer don’t worry about the lack of baitfish over the deep weeds. Spend a few hours driving the basin a cast length or two away from the weeds. Depth is irrelevant. If you see piles of bait balled up in 60 feet of water, 30 feet down, 100 yards away from the weed edge there is a very good chance a number of basin roaming muskies are holding on that weed edge. This variable changes daily. It pays to look for bait.


Don’t overthink lure selection, it really couldn’t be any simpler. Big rubber swimbaits. My favorite is the larger Shack Attack Curly Sue. I only fish two colors, gold with a white belly and a cisco/shad pattern with lots of white and light blue/purple. The reason these fish are holding deep is because most of the bait is deep. That being said your bait is competing with a lot of other forage. The best way to get your lure to stand out is extremely hard rips and pops. You can’t really fish it too fast. Although these fish may be holding 24 feet below the surface most of the time there is no need to fish deeper than 15 feet down. Fish will move a long ways to hit a frantically moving lure. During late summer on classic high skies no wind days it is necessary to get your lure down to the top of the weeds. To achieve these great depths while still fishing very fast a bit of modification is necessary. I take lead wrap and twist it around the front treble hook. I then add a 1 ounce bell weight to the front hook. This keeps the lure riding head down, which is key when bombing the depths.

Mid to late summer is my favorite time to chase big toothy fish around the north woods. The water is warm and a muskies metabolism is at its peak. When they move deep in search of metabolic bliss and hoards of forage these deep water muskies quite literally turn into fish processing machines. Get out of your comfort zone this season and explore the uncharted depths. Keep in mind the seasonal movements of fish and baitfish as well as the change in the depth of the thermocline throughout the summer. Use these two variable in relation to the deepest available structure in your lake and you will soon love the deep water bite!